Everyone has a large network of contacts. After all, we are social beings. We grow up as part of a family, make friends, go to school, join clubs and participate in sports teams. We have made hundreds of connections by the time that we graduate and enter the professional world. Without even thinking about it we have developed on-going relationships with some of these connections, but have allowed many others to lapse. Now it is time to be proactive and strategic with the connections you make. It is called Networking and it transforms contacts into connections and relationships.
Be Proactive – There are many priorities competing for your time and attention. Often, networking gets pushed down on the To Do list because it is not urgent. It doesn’t call out for your attention like e-mails and deadlines. Don’t let networking get crowded out. Proactively define the role that networking will play in your professional development and recognize its importance. Whether the role is large or small, consistency is key. Benefits can be reaped from your network only after the seed has first been planted and then watered and cultivated.
Be Strategic – Who will be in your network? Are you someone who likes to go wide or go deep? One size doesn’t fit all. Some people are energized by developing a large network of connections, while others prefer a smaller network. Where will you go to make valuable connections? You will meet hundreds of people as you walk through life. Which of these will you cultivate and develop into a relationship? Consider your work colleagues, professional organizations, business, community or civic organizations and social organizations.
Build Relationships – In order to reap benefits from your network, you must develop a relationship with your connections. Utilize the tools of emotional intelligence. Be aware that your message is filtered by emotions – both your own emotions and the emotions of your connection. The person that you just met must first like you before they will hear your message. Learn the art of conversation. Open with a question that will spark interest and can be built upon. Pay attention and build upon the response. Silence your inner critic that wants to interrupt and take control. Be patient and play the long game.
Create a Structure – Effective networking is an ongoing process. Use or create a system that will keep track of your connections. LinkedIn is an excellent vehicle that will stay current as connections move around during their professional careers. There are other networking apps also available.
Stay Connected – Look for ways to maintain the relationships. Be an active participant in professional and social organizations. Learn to reciprocate. Ask others how you can help them. Develop an on-line presence through a website or social media and share useful and meaningful information while being respectful of your connection’s time and priorities. Ask permission before delivering any unsolicited information.
When your network is built upon a solid foundation of mutual relationships, you will reap the benefits almost effortlessly. Many potential job openings are filled before they are advertised because of networking and referrals. For those that are advertised, the applicant pool can be large. Asking for a recommendation from a networking connection can lead to an interview opportunity that you may not otherwise get. For entrepreneurs, being effective in networking is key to success. People buy from those they know, like and trust. A solid networking foundation built upon trusted relationships will naturally lead to potential sales.